Under former coach Steve Alford, sophomore guard Chris Smith never started a game.
Freshman guards David Singleton and Jules Bernard combined for 9.5 points per game and shot 35.7 percent from 3.
Enter interim coach Murry Bartow.
UCLA men’s basketball (9-6, 2-0 Pac-12) started conference play with back-to-back wins, but the Bruins’ winning ways aren’t the only things that changed. Smith started both games, making Singleton and Bernard the two lead guards off the bench.
“When you give great players confidence, you never know what they can do,” Bernard said. “Yes, we’ve had a long, hard week of practice, but we see the results and that just makes us want to work harder.”
Bernard and Singleton averaged a combined 22.5 points per game on 60 percent 3-point shooting between the two games. Singleton’s scoring outputs of 13 and 14 were both career highs, and his 2.5 assists per game in conference play is a step up from his 0.6 mark in the nonconference schedule.
“The more people we get going, the more it opens up for everybody else, including me,” Singleton said. “(Ball movement) has been an emphasis, because when everyone plays good, when … everybody touches the ball, swings it, moves it, we all look good, and that’s what we want.”
UCLA ran a full court press for the majority of the Stanford and Cal games last week, something that rarely happened under Alford. Bernard said that pressuring opponents and moving the ball in transition helped the Bruins’ offense live up to its potential.
“This pace fits our style a little bit more,” Bernard said. “We’re active scorers – we like to get the ball out and run and get quick buckets. When we have that sort of freedom, we play more like ourselves and that means we produce more.”
UCLA scored 24 points off turnovers and 24 on the fast break against Stanford on Thursday, and followed up that performance with 21 points off turnovers and 19 fast break points against Cal on Saturday.
While Singleton and Bernard’s playing time did not see a significant bump this week, Bartow said that he loved the way they stepped up.
“I love David (Singleton) as a shooter,” Bartow said. “Long ago, (I) nicknamed him Sniper. He’s a heck of a shooter. … Jules (Bernard), I just call him a bulldog. He is a tough, ornery guy.”
Bartow said that the Bruins had two practices a day Tuesday through Thursday and lifted weights every day after Alford was fired.
Redshirt junior forward Alex Olesinski returned from a foot injury on Thursday, and freshmen forward Kenny Nwuba and guard Russell Stong were given more playing time than they had been all season.
While Alford tended to use an eight-man rotation, Bartow said he prioritizes using the Bruins’ depth.
“We think we’ve got 11 good players, and we’re going to try to play all 11,” Bartow said.